The pharma giant Pfizer announced to continue investigating the data manipulations committed by their former cancer researcher Min-Jean Yin, retractions of two more publications were requested and yet another paper’s fate is being currently decided. Again it is about studies of pharmacological inhibitors of cancer molecular pathways which Yin’s former lab at the Pfizer California research site has faked. These two retraction requests come is addition to 5 Yin retractions which Pfizer already announced on my site in October 2016 and which meanwhile happened. The PubPeer-listed evidence was first presented on my site in May 2016. Back then, the reader of my site, who posted that evidence of duplicated western blots on PubPeer and alerted me to it, preferred to remain unnamed. Now however, she agreed to be named: it was the microbiologist, image integrity specialist and host of the successful public outreach blog Microbiome Digest, Elisabeth Bik. She now forwarded to me this message: Continue reading “Pfizer announces more retractions for sacked lab head Min-Jean Yin, whistleblower revealed”
Five months ago, I reported about data integrity concerns in 6 publications authored by Min-Jean Yin, who had been working at the pharma giant Pfizer in La Jolla, California, as Senior Principal Scientist since 2003. One paper, where she contributed as a collaborator (Lamoureux et al, European Urology, 2014), has been corrected already in March 2016. Five other cancer research papers, on the efficiency of Pfizer’s own pharmacological enzyme inhibitors, will now be retracted, after an investigation performed by Pfizer confirmed the suspicions of data manipulation, originally raised on PubPeer. These five papers stemmed directly from the Pfizer lab which Yin used to be in charge of. Used to be – because according to her recently updated LinkedIn profile, Yin doesn’t work there anymore. Since September 2016, she joined a rather unremarkable Californian biotech start-up Diagnologix LLC in San Diego, as “General Manager”. With such a career (and surely also salary) setback, it is safe to assume Yin did not leave Pfizer after 13 years of service entirely voluntarily. Continue reading “5 retractions and a sack for Pfizer lead cancer researcher Min-Jean Yin”
The trachea surgeon and formerly world-renowned stem cell pioneer Paolo Macchiarini, whose human experimenting left most of his trachea-transplant patients dead or in permanent emergency care, certainly did not intend to restrict himself to regenerating airways. He wanted to grow hearts, and he was likely to have been inspired by his former colleagues in Hannover, Germany.
In a particularly revealing interview with a Russian magazine, Macchiarini explained in spring 2014 how an entire organ can be created:
“You cannot grow an entire organ from the cells of an adult human. Besides the cells, you need something else: donor organ or an artificial carcass”.
Thus, for Macchiarini regenerative medicine was reduced to pressing bone marrow cells into the right mould, either a decellurised donor organ consisting only of collagen fibres, or a plastic scaffold. If the form is of trachea, the bone marrow cells will regenerate a trachea. If the form is that of an oesophagus, they will grow an oesophagus. And if they are seeded of a heart-shaped scaffold, they will produce a real beating heart. This of course is one deeply ignorant and unscientific notion, which blatantly disregards the most basic concepts of developmental biology in favour of medical hubris and false promises. Shockingly, politicians, media, university doctors and even stem cell scientists somehow fell for it. Continue reading “Regenerating in Hannover, Part 1: how Macchiarini got ideas”
Image manipulations are unfortunately a rather widespread practice in biomedical literature, where a large part of research data in figures consists of microscopy or gel images. Some of the most commonly detected issues in this regard are image duplications. These can range from possible negligence like duplicated western blot images, to deliberate data fabrication, evidenced by duplications of select image fragments such as gel bands. Sometimes, it is difficult to believe in the accidental nature of duplications: I reported of a case where one single western blot put an appearance whole twelve times in several publications by the Brazilian diabetes researcher Mario Saad and his colleagues. Some of his papers have been retracted by now.
Elisabeth Bik is not only a competent microbiologist at Stanford University and public-outreach-blogger, she is also a human image fabrication detector. Even the most cleverly spliced band duplications are unlikely to be overlooked by Bik, who by now screened over 20,000 papers from 40 different journals for duplications and other image irregularities. For her project, Dutch-born microbiologist teamed up with colleagues and known research integrity activists Arturo Casadevall and Ferric Fang (who previously established misconduct as lead cause of retractions and demanded a reform of the Nobel Prize). The trio presented the results of Bik’s analysis in a bioarxiv-preprint titled “The Prevalence of Inappropriate Image Duplication in Biomedical Research Publications”, where they calculated that
“3.8% of published papers contained problematic figures, with at least half exhibiting features suggestive of deliberate manipulation”.
The disgraced surgeon Paolo Macchiarini has now been officially sacked from Karolinska Institutet (KI) in Sweden, while also the entire Ethics Council was dismissed by the new KI Vice Chancellor in the process of creating a new supervisory body, with more extended authority.
European Union terminated in 2014 its FP7 funding to Macchiarini and his partners of the Biotrachea Consortium (yet as I show below, the EU’s follow-up programme Horizon2020 has awarded just now almost €7 Mio for a stage II clinical trial with regenerated trachea by the very same Macchiarini partners at UCL) . The original wording of the EU spokesperson in regard to BIotrachea termination referred to “difficulties related to important deliverables” and declared that “at no time did any EU funding for this project involve activities, tests or investigations with human subjects”. Yet the List of Milestones of Biotrachea contained points like:
- MS10 Report on the in vivo immune responses to tissue-engineered airway grafts in men.
- WT14: Outcome of first trial in man tracheal clinical trial
- WT15: Obtaining of clinical trials authorization for tracheal trial
- WT 16: Obtaining of clinical trials authorization for synthetic tracheal trial
After I confronted EU with this and other documents from Biotrachea suggesting an upcoming clinical trial on human patients, the EU spokesperson issued an update to their earlier statement (the entire EU message at the end):
“A chronological sequence of milestones (MS) and work packages (WP) were proposed under the Description of Action. These defined and described all of the technical activities that were to be carried out. The Commission terminated the project before the milestones and work packages referred to in your message were achieved or delivered”.
The Paolo Macchiarini scandal draws wider circles, and unfortunately, it involves more unnecessary patient deaths though questionable tracheal transplants, this time at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.
In 2011, scientists at the Sahlgrenska University Hospital of Gothenburg applied a method of bioreactor-engineered trachea (similar to that by Macchiarini) to operate on a 76-year old patient, possibly without a medical necessity (he had asthma since decades). The patient died 23 days later “due to cardiac arrest but with a patent, open, and stable tracheal transplant and intact anastomoses”. This is what the paper (Berg et al, Tissue Eng Part A. 2014) claims, which last author is Suchitra Sumitran-Holgersson, professor of transplantation biology at the Sahlgrenska Academy. The University of Gothenburg described Sumitran-Holgersson as “genius”, in an article presenting her rather unconventional method of purifying endothelial stem cells from patients’ blood. That work she did in collaboration with another Sahlgrenska professor and medical director of the Transplant Center, Michael Olausson.
Guest cartoon: Jill Howlin
Sonia Melo, Portuguese cancer researcher and recipient of the prestigious EMBO Installation Grant, now has her publications investigated by EMBO for suspected image manipulations. Her current and former research institutions are apparently actively avoiding any attempts to scrutinise her papers, some due to very heavy financial conflicts of interest. Yet my information suggests that Melo’s former PhD advisor and co-author, Manel Esteller, is being presently investigated by his research centre in Barcelona.
Melo already had to retract a first-author publication from her PhD period with Esteller from the journal Nature Genetics. The retraction notice admits image duplications:
“We have recently become aware of the presence of duplicated images in the Figures 3 and 4 and Supplementary Figures 5 and 6 in our publication Nat. Genet. 41, 365–370, 2009, that were assembled according to the specified author contributions. We therefore retract the publication for the sake of the high standards we expect for research and scientific journals. All the authors have signed this statement”.